How the old lady hitched up her skirts and went to war

There are few obstacles in the way of an American president taking his country to war. He gravely announces his decision over live television from the White House and unless the non executive branches of American law making impeach or manage to get a blocking two thirds majority discussion from a legal stand point at least is at an end.

Presidential appearances in front of the members of the Houses of Congress are few and far between. And when the president does appear its not to be questioned but to lecture those ranged before him. They can either sit in deference ,yawn, or walk out.They cannot barrack or interject.

How different things are in Great Britain acknowledged as the oldest continuously operating Parliament in the world. Its origins are said by some to date back to the invasion of England by William The Conqueror in 1066. Others point to a latter date in 1215 when the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, which British law is based on to this day was signed. Either way you are looking at the very least 800 years of history.

The British Prime Minister’s position is more akin to that of the Speaker of the Senate or the leader of the House of Representatives.He does not sit in an Oval office away from the cut and thrust of daily politics but as the leader of the majority party he sits at the centre of the front bench in the House of Commons surrounded by his elected supporters almost General like.He is often a target of abuse and always the recipient of difficult and embarrassing questions from those on the opposition benches.

When it comes to holding his own in debate a Prime Minister who cannot best the best of the opposition, either through the cut and thrust of a quick tongue, or slicker briefings of the matter at hand, will not last long in the hot seat as leader.

So taking Britain to war in Syria was and would prove no easy task for Prime Minister David Cameron.Following the debacle of Iraq and Afghanistan British appetite for going to war matched that of the American public after Vietnam. Everyone agreed Syria needed ground troops to finish of the so called Islamic State.And if no one in the West was going to send ground troops there was no consensus to get militarily.

In fact Cameron could not even count on unanimous support from his own Conservative party. The opposition Labour party was also hopelessly split with its leader Jeremy Corbyn firmly against military involvement while his deputy, the shadow Defence and Foreign affairs spokesmen were all firmly in favour.

Cameron had done his chances of cross party support little good by describing in a private meeting with his party the night before the vote those who would vote against as “terrorist appeasers.” He should have realised that a private meeting with upwards of 300 people attending could be anything but leak proof.It almost certainly turned some Labour members who were siting on the fence against voting in favour of war.

The debate was scheduled to last ten and a half hours with 500 members putting their names forward to speak.The debate was started off by Prime Minister Cameron who if nothing else proved he was no Winston Churchill.But the real drama, just like the best detective stories,was due to come right at the end.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn as per tradition wound up the debate for the opposition. If there was a Churchill in the House that night it was Hilary Benn. The House sat in silence as Benn eloquently described ISIl as fascists who like all fascists thought themselves better than us and who we had a duty to defeat and destroy.

Members on both sides of the House burst into spontaneous applause. Feet away and sitting white faced and in stony silence was his leader Jeremy Corbyn who hours earlier, but without the same eloquence,made out the case against bombing. The speech by Benn by all accounts swayed many members to the cause of bombing and left the Government with a massive majority of 174 for war in a vote which many experts thought might be a close run thing. A head count found that a third of the Labour party members voted against the wishes of their leader.It had taken time and much hot air but the “Mother of Parliaments” finally decided to join America and France in the battle against ISIL.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had himself caused uproar just days earlier when he disavowed the Government policy of shoot to kill where terrorists were concerned. Corbyn has never voted for any military engagement Britain has been involved in during his 30 years as a Parliamentarian. He has admitted he has never come across a cause that was worth going to war for. But that has not stopped him in the past as talking about his ” friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah.

Voted into the leadership by the grass roots of the party but with minimal support of his fellow party members in Parliament his first major test is at the national local elections in May of next year. Should the Labour party perform badly there could well be a move to oust him.

Since the days of Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown the Labour party has been at best cool if not at times down right dismissive of the problems faced by Israel. It might be of some comfort to the Labour party’s Jewish supporters that of those most likely to succeed, Hilary Benn and the deputy leader Tom Watson are both long standing members of the Labour Friends of Israel Parliamentary pressure group.

Within hours of the vote being passed British planes took to the skys. Of 14 sorties made that night by the allies, six of them were carried out by British bombers.

About the Author
Adrian Needlestone quit sixth form at 17 to follow his dream to become a journalist. So desperate was he that he accepted a wage of £6 a week for six days work as an office boy at what was then London largest independent news agency, The Fleet Street News Agency. After making tea and buying sandwiches for six months he was given the opportunity to cut his working week down by one day and cover the East London Crown courts in those days known as Quarter sessions Courts. The bread and butter work was the local paper contracts the agency held with the occasional national story being cream on the top. During 18 months covering the courts stories in the nationals became the norm rather than the exception and he was quickly switched back to the main office in Clerkenwell to work with the news team. At the age of 21 came his first big break when Murdoch took over the Sun newspaper and promptly hired the agency’s news editor and most of the senior staff. In a leap of faith the agency head promoted him to news editor but confided many years later that it was the “cheap” option which if he sank that was life and if he swam so much the better. Seven years later after working regular evenings on the Mirror and the Mail he joined the Evening standard on the news picture desk. From there he moved on to the National Enquirer in America, the News of the World, BBC national radio and ran the news section of the Derek Jameson TV magazine programme on Sky. After 25 years in the business he decided to slow down and turn his hand to business but he never enjoyed the success in that world to match his career in Fleet street. Semi retired he has now taken to the internet and is writing a blog as well as simultaneously trying to write three books, one about his time on the News of the World which he hopes to launch through Kindle in about six weeks.
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